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SoulTopia's angel mural
SoulTopia's angel mural
Nashwa Bawab

New Shop SoulTopia Crystallizes Bishop Arts Fear of Gentrification

In the heart of the Bishop Arts district, a bit of Dallas magic is stirring up in the form of a holistic boutique that opened its doors in October. SoulTopia sells crystals, elixirs, tarot cards, candles and herbs. They also offer tarot card readings and classes with names such as “Bracelets and Bellinis,” “Soul Tarot 101” and “Which Crystal Am I?”

SoulTopia opened in a world that is making a transition from fear of the occult to one where Instagram models brandish their crystals of the day on social media, witches have their own online spaces for dispelling misconceptions about Wicca and where you can even pay for astrology and tarot card readings through someone’s PayPal account in their Twitter bio.

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But it also opened in Bishop Arts, in a heavily Latinx area that's long been home to botanicas selling all sorts of traditional healing supplies. Calling SoulTopia parvenu, or a botanica for white hipsters, is a bit harsh, but gentrification is a touchy subject in the neighborhood today. Having a trendy shop roll in and compete is enough to get the neighborhood's chi out of balance.

That's not what SoulTopia's owner had in mind.

“We like to have fun with this thing called metaphysics that's very trendy now, but it's not just a trend to me,” owner Michelle Welch says. The former lawyer used to bead bracelets to relieve stress, began selling them at events and eventually opened up the first SoulTopia location in Addison.

“I was raised with a very heavy Bible base, and I haven’t thrown that out at all. I just really have evolved and come to where I can look at different belief systems and be open to them and just see what I can take away from that,” she says. “I try to incorporate that here, and we welcome anybody from any walk of life, any religion, any spiritual background.”

The store used to be a gas station before becoming a law firm that advertised a list of legal services on the side of the building. That sign has been replaced with an angel mural. Now, Stevie Nicks stays on loop at SoulTopia while a Zoltar fortune-telling machine — apparently the only one in North Texas, Welch says — lights up in the background. Out with the old energy and in with the new.

But for all its magic, SoulTopia can’t seem to make the problem of gentrification disappear.

Bishop Arts is changing very fast and residents have reported real estate investors vying for their homes.

A five-minute walk from SoulTopia is Maroches Bakery, a Mexican bakery and one of the last holdouts in gentrified Oak Cliff. It's fighting for survival in a neighborhood full of newer shops and newer people.

“There are already many local botánicas in their area with women of color running these establishments who have been trained as healers/curanderas by traditions and practices that have been passed down generation to generation,” says Susana Edith, an organizer with the activists of the Lucha Dallas Collective. “It’s ridiculous to see establishments such as these getting recognized for being ‘something new’ or ‘the only spot like this in the area’ because they are riding a trend of curanderismo healers/brujería.”

For Edith, the store isn’t just encroaching on the neighborhood but the culture as well. A culture that exists on the same street and a short drive away from SoulTopia in the form of Chango Botánica and Botánica San Lazaro, which sell candles, statues, folk medicine and other assorted religious goods.

“You know, lately there has been a rise of this new trend for everyone to be into healing and ‘witchcraft,’ and it’s gone as far as to big brand names trying to sell this as a commodity as well,” Edith says.

But Welch says she thinks SoulTopia is adding something new to a scene that already exists in Dallas.

“When you’re building something, are you taking away from the people that live here, who this is their neighborhood, or are you helping them and adding to their life in that neighborhood? ...That was something we talked about before opening, and I think this store does and I really mean that,” she says.

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